Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Corbett should treat higher education the same way he treats other industries

Among his budget "must-haves" Gov. Corbett found room for tax breaks and hand outs to big business, but can't find adequate and fair funding for higher education, which in my opinion should be considered one of the state's most favorable industries.

Pennsylvania has a higher education infrastructure that is the envy of other states, would take billions of dollars to replicate, and generates billions in economic impact annually.

Beyond producing the qualified workforce of the next generation (which in turn leads companies to locate here), it promotes tourism ($83 million worth of visits from moms, dads & siblings and events like alumni weekends), and it drives the economies of towns surrounding the schools as a major employer, not just in on-campus jobs, but the small businesses catering to the needs of the students and faculty in towns surrounding universities.

Corbett's massive cut is an embarrassment to all Pennsylvanians and effect the state system, state-related and even in independent colleges and universities. The Associated Press reported that the funding slash is the considered the highest proposed cut to state-supported colleges and universities is the nation this year.

Tuition increases can only make up for so much. Increases at the SSHE schools have been in the neighborhood of 4% for the last decade, but cuts of the magnitude Corbett is proposing would increase that tuition hike to 20%.

Millersville and other schools have indicated that the reduction of this magnitude will force them to offer fewer courses, which would prohibit students from completing college in four years, or even in five or six years.

Today 13 of 14 universities in Pennsylvania's state system held student rallies protesting the governor's proposed 50% cut to higher education funding. I welcome those who are adding their voices to the list of outraged citizens across the state.

Cuts this drastic are pennywise and pound foolish. When the economy does improve, and economic indicators point in that direction, Pennsylvania won't be able to offer the highly-trained workforce that we've been working toward, or conversely, graduates will be saddled with unwieldy college debt.

I invite students and anyone opposed to the cuts to stay informed about the higher education budget through the "Pennsylvania College Coalition" page on both Facebook: www.facebook.com/PACollegeCoalition; and Twitter: http://twitter.com/PA4Colleges.

I've been exploring the notion of higher ed as an industry for years with the Democratic Policy Committee, even before the proposed cuts, and I am convinced that it is an industry worth investing, and that Corbett’s cuts would be detrimental to the Commonwealth’s economy.